Today, representatives of federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) across the country are in Washington, DC, to advocate for restoration of federal funding for the community health center program. The National Day of Demonstration is part of the Red Alert for Health Centers campaign. Funding for FQHCs expired on September 30 of last year. Yesterday, 105 Republicans in the House sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan asking him to include funding for FQHCs in a new continuing resolution to keep the government running past February 8 (when the previous continuing resolution will expire). But it’s not clear yet if that will happen. In the meantime, those who can’t be in DC have other ways to show their support for community health centers (as FQHCs are often known), like wearing red and posting pictures to social media with the hashtag #RedAlert4CHCs. (For more information on how you can participate, visit the Health Center Advocacy Network website.)
On this Day of Demonstration, I’m reminded of my experiences at the Annual Community Health Center Grassroots Advocacy Day in the New York State capital when I worked for the Community Health Care Association of New York State (CHCANYS). Every year in early March, a few hundred staff and patients from community health centers all across New York board charter buses before sunrise and travel to Albany to meet with their representatives to advocate on behalf of health centers. I remember the groups walking into the convention center wearing their brightly colored matching t-shirts with the names of their health centers printed on them. They were mussed and sleepy and they had to pee. But when my CHCANYS colleagues and I clapped and cheered to welcome them, they clapped and cheered too. They thanked us for organizing the day, for giving them the chance to share how much their health centers meant to them.
You make an effort for things that truly matter to you. Community health centers truly matter to their patients, and to the people who work there. Why else would anyone get on a bus in the dark and travel several hours to Albany in invariably horrible weather (one year there was an ice storm), spend the whole day on their feet, eat a boxed lunch, and get back on the bus that evening for another hours-long ride back home?
People who work at FQHCs, or who work to support them, often talk about “the health center movement.” Health centers can trace their roots directly to the civil rights movement. They are mission-driven, operating on the principle that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. They take care of Medicaid patients and the uninsured. They operate in inner cities and in rural areas, where provider shortages are often acute. They provide high quality primary and preventive care to anyone who needs it, regardless of whether or not they can pay.
Since it was created by legislation sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy, the community health center program has mostly enjoyed bipartisan support. President George W. Bush doubled the program’s funding, enabling it to expand significantly. Under President Obama, the Affordable Care Act provided even more funding for FQHC expansion. Today, FQHCs have gone from that first little clinic in the Mississippi Delta to locations in over 10,000 communities nationwide. Nearly 27 million people rely on FQHCs for their care.
But now, some centers have implemented hiring freezes and others are making plans to close some of their locations. If Congress doesn’t act immediately to restore funding, FQHCs will be devastated and so will their patients and their communities.
Don’t let that happen. Join the health center movement. I’m not even asking you to get on a bus or brave an ice storm to do it. Just show your support and spread the word.
For more information on how you can participate in the Red Alert for Health Centers National Day of Demonstration, visit http://www.hcadvocacy.org/redalert